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Community Spotlight: Kerri Johnson

In the midst of preparing for Plaid Friday, Oaklandish was lucky enough to sit down with Kerri Johnson, creator of Plaid Friday, and talk about the origins of the day:

Why don’t you begin by telling us your “Oakland story”? What’s your relationship to Oakland?

I have lived in Oakland for almost 15 years now. I first moved here when I was in school in San Francisco—I couldn’t afford to live in the City and so like many other struggling artists, I landed in Oakland. I knew right away this was the place for me; I love the people, the food, the architecture, and the DIY attitude. Oaklanders are fiercely loyal to their city, and I share that sense of civic pride and community. When one person does well, we all do well, when someone needs help, we lend a hand. Plus, at the end of the day, who can complain about the weather? I’ m still getting great tomatoes from my garden!

How did you dream up Plaid Friday?

At the time Plaid Friday was conceived, there was a growing movement to boycott all shopping on “Black Friday.” I, as well as many of the people I knew, avoided the craziness of that day. Most small businesses didn’t even open. At the time, I had a small artist run gallery that I ran with my husband Jason, and we would turn the gallery into a pop-up shop featuring local artisans for the holidays. I thought why not turn this crazy day into something relaxing and enjoyable, giving people an alternative to shopping at the malls at 3 am. The idea was to get up late, grab a coffee, and explore the neighborhood, discovering small businesses and shopping local. A win-win for everyone.

What inspired you to choose “plaid” as the color/descriptor for the day?

I get asked the question why “plaid” often. The plaid actually refers to the idea of weaving the individual threads of small businesses together to create a strong fabric that celebrates the diversity and creativity of independent businesses. It represents the transformation of the craziness of “Black Friday” into a pleasurable, community building activity.  I think it is important to remember that and not think of the term plaid as a nod to hipster culture. In fact, originally, plaid was not cool or hip, but kitschy and fun. It was found mostly at thrift stores, vintage shops, and in your grandparents’ closet. We asked people to wear plaid to show their support for small business on that day. Plus it was fun! People seemed to enjoy dressing up and feeling like they were really participating in something good.

How do you think Plaid Friday impacts Oakland and development in Oakland?

I think Plaid Friday has had a positive impact in Oakland by helping to draw attention to the strong small business community in our city. Oakland has traditionally been supportive of local business, as represented by the strength of our shop local campaign, Oakland Grown. However, I think many people don’t realize just how many small businesses there are in Oakland. Plaid Friday has helped introduce new people to the small businesses, making it easy for people to choose to shop local during the holidays. Hopefully this will inspire people to return to these brick and mortar businesses again and again, and choose to shop locally throughout the year.

What other cities in US have successfully adopted Plaid Friday as a yearly practice?

Plaid Friday is a grassroots movement, and I am so happy to say Plaid Friday has been adopted by many cities and shop local campaigns all over the country. These cities can be found in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Colorado, Kentucky, North Carolina, Arizona, Oregon; and, for the first time this year, a city in Canada will be participating in Plaid Friday!

It has been exciting to watch this idea grow and be embraced by the city I love. I am forever grateful for all of the people who have helped make this a strong day for small business in Oakland. This year is going to be amazing, thanks efforts of organizations like Oaklandish, East Bay Express, Oakland Grown, Downtown/Uptown Business Association, and the support for the City of Oakland offices and Mayor. How cool is it that there is even free parking on Plaid Friday!

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